NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Heading into Wednesday's Fourth Round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, riding an eight-game unbeaten streak in its inaugural season, Nashville SC had already proven itself against USL competition.
But could the underdogs punch up a weight class against MLS opposition?
Nashville has gone 6-0-3 over its last nine matches, allowing just four goals since last losing on April 14. But the team's first win over an MLS opponent meant something just a little bit more.
“It's awesome for the club,” said Nashville SC defender Justin Davis. “We're still new in this market and trying to make a name for ourselves. When you beat a team that's perceived to be a higher-quality team, it makes a statement. So we'll take that.”
Nashville SC will find out Thursday morning what team it will face in the next round.
But Music City's club will first savor this upset victory. A vocal crowd of 4,453 was onhand as Nashville SC knocked off Colorado.
“It is what it is – at the end of the day, it's an MLS team,” said Nashville SC goalie Matt Pickens, who was Colorado's starting 'keeper when the Rapids won the 2010 MLS Cup final.
“We're heading there. We wanted to play well. It's a playoff game … It doesn't matter who we play. We want to win.”
Pickens didn't have a particularly taxing night, as the Rapids – who'd lost seven straight MLS games – didn't muster a single shot on target. Colorado controlled the ball for 55 percent of the contest, but the Rapids were outshot, 7-3.
“The guys put in a workmanlike performance tonight,” Pickens said. “Probably the easiest game of the year for me. I was just trying to keep guys tuned in and ready for anything.”
Nashville SC jumped ahead in the 39th minute with a little help from the Rapids.
“I was looking for a goal,” Davis said, with a laugh. “No, I was just looking to put it in a difficult spot. Playing on this turf is not ideal for a back line, so anything when they're facing their own goal is going to ask questions. Stuff like that happens.”
Ropapa Mensah's header in the 78th minute – on his first touch of the game – sealed the contest for Nashville SC.
The upset victory proved especially sweet for Nashville SC head coach Gary Smith, who coached Colorado's MLS championship team. In addition to Pickens, Kosuke Kimura played a key role on that 2010 Rapids squad.
“I don't think by any stretch this was just a rearguard action,” Smith said. “Certainly (Colorado) had better possession, but they're an MLS side – you might have expected that."
“In front of goal, we certainly looked the more creative, the more threatening (team), and without a shadow of a doubt, we showed more edge and ruthlessness when it really came down to it. I think that was the difference in the night.”